Police, fire and rescue services to share £42k surveillance drones
An aerial crime-fighting and rescue tool could save lives and public money, according to emergency service chiefs.
Two drones will be shared between the police, fire service, lowland search and rescue, four-by-four response and county council for aerial surveillance.
The devices were unveiled and given a test flight at Suffolk police headquarters on Thursday.
Known as Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft, they were procured and funded by Suffolk Resilience Forum – a multi-agency partnership of representatives from local public services.
The drones could be used in the event of large or complex fires, urban search and rescue, disaster response, road collisions and missing person searches.
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They were recently used to monitor a fire at Saxmundham Railway Station on Monday.
The drones and camera equipment, which cost £42,500, will be based at Woodbridge’s shared fire and police station.
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The constabulary paid £20,000 to the total – with the remainder coming from the other services.
Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said they would not replace the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter, which serves the region from Essex and has faced his criticism for the cost of “dead flying time” on journeys.
“This is an example of joint working across various agencies,” he added.
“As well as being operationally effective, it could save money – but it could also save lives, which you can’t put a price on.
“It will complement, not substitute for the helicopter. We get a pretty rubbish service from the NPAS and I think this will help reassure people – particularly in the north of the county.”
Matthew Hicks, Suffolk’s head of public protection, said: “This is part of a long collaborative journey across blue-light services in Suffolk – and we are ahead of the rest of the country in what we’ve already achieved.
“Half of our fire stations are now shared with police or ambulance colleagues. We’re now looking beyond property to other multi-agency projects.”
If the drones are used when blue-light response is not required, Norfolk and Suffolk 4x4 Response will provide logistics and pilot for flights.
Dave Coyle, Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue search manager, said the technology would help the organisation save lives in the future.
Meanwhile, Suffolk police will be monitoring progress of new mobile fingerprinting technology being rolled out in other parts of the country, allowing officers to identify people in minutes using smartphones.
A phone app and handheld scanner will enable police to check fingerprints against criminal and immigration records by connecting to the two live databases via the new Biometric Services Gateway.
West Yorkshire Police worked with the Home Office to trial the new system and will begin an initial roll out of 250 scanners in the coming weeks.
Suffolk will not be among another 20 forces expected to roll out the system by the end of this year.
Policing minister Nick Hurd said the new technology was available for 10% of the cost of current mobile fingerprint systems.
A Suffolk police spokesman said: “Suffolk police are not one of the forces involved in this particular trial, but will be monitoring its progress.
“There are also other app based systems available, and together with Norfolk police, which we collaborate with on forensic services, we will be assessing which approach offers the best service and value for money before deciding which application to proceed with.”